Don’t let your agent talk you out of an open house
Even in this age of online house hunting, would-be buyers are as likely as ever to use the informal walk-through as a buying tool.
Q: I am about to put my four-bedroom home on the market for $475,000, with a 90-day listing. The agent says she will hold one open house for the general public. She says we don’t need any more because open houses don’t sell homes. Is she right?
— Ocean City, N.J.
A: Heck no, though her opinion is certainly shared by many real-estate agents who would rather do anything else on their weekends than baby-sit a house. I can personally attest to their effectiveness, and not just in boom times: In 1987, while stocks were collapsing and recession was on the horizon, the first real-estate agent I ever used sold the first home I ever owned to a buyer who drove by, saw the open-house yard sign, wandered around for a while and made a full-price offer on the spot.
But many agents tell me that open houses are no longer necessary because most buyers search for homes on the Web. Indeed, the National Association of Realtors’ Profile of Home Buyers and Sellers says that nine out of 10 buyers search on the Internet. I don’t agree.
While it’s easy to spend an afternoon blasting through slide show after slide show of homes for sale, photos alone don’t sell homes. They can’t convey how a home smells, sounds or feels — and, as anyone who has seen a room shot through a wide-angle lens knows, they can deceive.
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Buyers know this, yet some just don’t want to make a personal appointment with an agent to visit a home that interests them, just as some folks don’t like sales clerks hovering in the background when they shop for clothes. Open houses give these people a chance to browse without too much pressure.
The NAR’s survey shows old-fashioned open houses have remained consistently useful to consumers, even in the age of YouTube video marketing pitches and virtual home tours with jazzy musical scores. Since 2001, the number of buyers who said they found a house they eventually bought through an open house or yard sign was constant at about 15%. Nor have economic ups and downs made much of an impact on how people regard them. In 2006, 47% of buyers said they used open houses as an information source in their home search; in 2008, the number was 48%.
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And sure, open houses also attract nosy neighbors, bored Sunday drivers, decorating addicts and petty thieves. But all except the last are harmless and may wind up falling in love with your house, or talking it up to someone else who will.
Thieves, meanwhile, can be thwarted by locking up your valuables and prescription drugs — which you should do before putting your house on the market anyway.
Of course, while your house is open, you should make sure that your home is free of clutter, pets, children, scattered toys, extra cars in the driveway — and you.
Clean like crazy beforehand, preferably with good-smelling citrus-based organic cleaners that won’t upset anyone’s allergies, and don’t forget the windows (remove the screens so the most light shines in).
Draw back the drapes and turn on the lights. Make sure your lawn is mowed, your hedges trimmed and flowers are blooming in pots by your doorway.
To increase traffic, try some unusual marketing strategies, like holding your open house during rush hour, or coordinating your open house with others in the neighborhood. (Perhaps you can get together with the neighbors and arrange to have a different small snack served at each, like a progressive dinner.)
But whatever you do, don’t choose an agent who won’t hold at least one open house a month. In this economy, you need to use every tool possible to draw attention to your property.
If you’re planning an open house:
- Clean like crazy beforehand, preferably with good-smelling organic cleaners that won’t upset anyone’s allergies.
- Clear out the clutter, pets, toys and even extra cars from the garage.
- Draw back the drapes, clean the windows and remove the screens so the most light shines in.
- Mow the lawn, trim the hedges and put some blooming flowers in pots by the doorway.
Odd...I sold six houses by owner with Open House. All sold with only one showing...with 5 of the offers coming in right there at the Open House...and 1 had the offer come in 9 days after the Open House. (I told them I wasn't going to hold the house for them any longer and if they didn't put the official offer in, the Open House flags and signs were going right back up.)
The main thing is you want the house freaky clean...spotless...every drawer organized, every closet pure perfection...even clean under the furnace and water heater, etc. Bright white semi-gloss paint, turn on EVERY light in the house...it not only makes it look totally clean and spacious, it also shows you're not "hiding anything". Open ALL the windows (even in winter) for a few hours the day before the Open House to really air the place out and get it smelling good-n-fresh (so what if your heating/ac bill is $5 higher that month---open 'em ALL). Fresh air is better than anything you could spray or cook to scent the air.
I can only speak for my MLS and Association of REALTORS, but we are required to put the home in the MLS within 24 hours of listing unless it is on a weekend or holiday, at which time we have until the end of the next business day. Listings are uploaded fairly quickly, but it can take a couple of days for other sites to actually get the listing themselves (we only send out batches once a day). Any extra sites that we use, like the visualtour.com site that I use, have their own load times. Since the information on them is controlled by the agent, it may take longer to get there.
Again, speaking for my market, the "list of interested agents/clients" that so many tout on a listing appointment is somewhat misleading. If they are going by agents that have listed their client on the MLS, there is no way to know how old that entry is. Not all agents work buyers, so simply being in a large office can be unimportant.
Nationwide, the average agent makes less than $30,000 per year. In the Birmingham area, half of all agents were involved in three closings or less last year. Sobering numbers, to say the least.
Most agents in this market use open houses to build their client base. There are, however, a sizable group of them that use them as a means to show a client a home without having to do anything. Typically, I get two clients that are working with a buyer's agent who told them "go look and find it, and I will write it up" for every one who does not have an agent.
A few months ago, I had a great home in a great location, so I did a whole weekend open house. We had hours on Saturday and Sunday. The weather was nice. Everything was perfect except the turnout. We only had one couple come by, and they were working with another agent. A few weeks later was the national open house weekend. I did not hold any open. The average agent reported one client per existing home in my area.
What I do know is that in the Birmingham market, new construction needs open houses and existing homes typically do not benefit.
Also what about character of a home. I walked through a home that was absolutely superb on paper and in pictures. Great Price Location Condition, however, when i walked through the home i got this erie feeling (dark so to speak). long story short i found that animal sacrifices and demonic worship took place in one of the closets. Needless to say i dont live there.
When I sold real estate in a heavily populated area in 96-98, the guy who asked me to start doing real estate was top notch at what he did. He always said that open houses were for no more than agents to network. Sure some people would come in a lot of times for the free food offered etc. And to the point of another poster, most sellers were not realistic in doing their part to have the home in "showcase" mode. True, open houses should be available to real estate agents. I feel that without them offering or at least doing them at the request of sellers, they are not earning their money. A lot of sales fall in the lap of the agent and have seen some shoddy work in the field. In fact there is a saying in real estate; "buyers suck" and "if you list, you last". That is really what these overdressed onassis emulating women really think of you.......of course they will emphaticall deny it.
I got out of real estate because I couldnt stand real estate agents and they are the ones the drive all the housing prices up (brokers actually). I loved it when I saw so many of them on welfare and in the soup line when things went down.......they had to get other jobs and work for a living.
I bought a house because I drove by, saw an "Open House" sign and went in for a look. Several years later I sold that same house to a couple who came to my open house and never left - they stayed to the end and made an offer - full price, to boot. When I moved to a new state recently and was "neighborhood shopping", I went to a lot of open houses even though I was not in a position to buy yet. At one of those open houses, I met the real estate agent that I called when I was ready to buy. Didn't work out too badly for her, as she did find me a home. Overall, after after buying and selling four houses, I feel that while open houses are a pain, they do have some value.
Think about it. People who do search the net for properties, and see that a few of the ones they like are holding open houses, GO to those open houses. Don't think of it as an either/or scenario. Yes people could schedule a viewing with a realtor for any property they like, but then they feel more pressure, may be put off by the realtor. When seraching the net, you obviously cannot go see every house you like, so you tend to weed out some listings, and sometimes you do that by guessing. If there is the option of an open house, you don't necessarily weed that one out so quickly because you have the hassle free option of checking things out for yourself.